Hepatitis Australia: Need for action as the task 'just got more difficult'

Source: PharmaDispatch. Author: Paul Cross

Hepatitis Australia has expressed understanding, disappointment and concern over MSD's decision to cease all promotion of its direct-acting antiviral for hepatitis C, ZEPATIER (grazoprevir and elbasvir).

The company communicated the decision to stakeholders, confirming in a follow-up response to PharmaDispatch that its decision was in response to the dramatic decline in the uptake of the direct-acting antivirals and "reimbursement pricing caps based on unreasonable patient numbers" and unsustainable rebates.

Hepatitis Australia has been outspoken and consistent in its call for action over the dramatic decline in the uptake of the cures for hepatitis C first listed on the PBS in March 2016.

“Hepatitis Australia appreciates the commercial decisions that MSD must take with respect to their business and we are grateful they will continue to make their product available in Australia. It has transformed the lives of many patients to date and will continue to be an important treatment option for clinicians to discuss with their patients," said the organisation association in a statement.

"However, the loss of the marketing and education from MSD is of significant concern to us. As the major primary care provider in the three companies supplying HCV treatment in Australia, the job of Hepatitis Australia in educating the community and ensuring education and support for prescribing in primary care just got more difficult."

The organisation used its 2019-20 pre-Budget submission to repeat its call for government intervention to address the decline in uptake through initiatives including programs focused on primary care.

"We have called on the government for 18 months now to address the issue of GP prescribing rates in Australia, to encourage the 90% of GPs not prescribing HCV treatments to review their patients, diagnose, treat and cure HCV and reduce the unacceptable rate of liver cancer deaths associated with this disease," it said in statement issued late yesterday.

"With monthly initiation rates sitting well below the Chief Medical Officer’s advice on those necessary to eliminate this disease in Australia, we are asking all political parties to commit to making curing Hepatitis C a priority for everyone in our community particularly those who do not know that this treatment exists.

"We need education of the community and clinicians and we need it in unison. Australia’s vaccination programs show the value of this combined messaging and education for changing health outcomes.  This education needs to be supported with time limited access to incentive payments or chronic disease plan items on the MBS to support patients as well as those who provide their care. Diagnosing and curing hepatitis C should be a KPI for every general practice in Australia.

"Australia has made the cure available – now let’s teach those that can save lives how to use it,” it added.

Note: This article has been republished with the permission of PharmaDispatch